Frustrated optometrists threaten to withdraw services

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Cathy Dobson/Special to The Independent

Children and seniors in Central Lambton and across the province could lose all access to eye care on September 1.

It’s a stalemate that can be avoided if the Ontario government agrees to negotiate with optometrists on the cost of eye exams, says a spokesman for Kniaziew Optometry in Petrolia.

Jordan Kniaziew is the vice president of business development for the family-owned company that has nine optometry offices throughout southwestern Ontario.
Optometry has been drastically underfunded for decades and it’s finally reaching a breaking point, according to Kniaziew.

Jordan Kniaziew

Members of the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) have voted 96 per cent in favour to withdraw services they provide under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) unless the province steps up funding.

“We support the withdrawal of OHIP services,” Kniaziew said. “A lack of government funding for eye care directly impacts patient access and treatment.

“The less funding for eye care, the more the service as a whole suffers,” he said. “We don’t want our care for our patients to be interrupted, but we are very concerned for the quality of care if the government does not come to the table.”

Optometrists say other regulated health professionals have a formal negotiation process that ensures regular talks to set fees for OHIP-insured care.

But eye care professionals are not given the same consideration and the result is a payment system that falls far short of covering the real cost of optometry.

“In 1989, the Ontario government paid $39.15 to an optometrist for a single eye exam,” said Kniaziew.  “Since then, that figure has increased an average 17 cents a year.”

That level of funding doesn’t cover the cost to deliver an exam let alone pay to maintain and purchase modern equipment, monthly rent fees, loans, insurance and the salaries of office staff, Kniaziew said.  

“Even if we don’t withdraw services, the quality of service we can provide is suffering.”
Without adequate payment, it is harder for Ontario optometrists to invest in modern technologies that aid in the early detection of serious eye diseases and other conditions, Kniaziew added.

Currently, the province covers about 55 per cent of the cost of eye exams insured by OHIP, according to the OAO.  

The remainder of the cost is absorbed by optometrist clinics.

Seven out of ten patients are covered by OHIP, including people under 20, 65 and older or with specific medical conditions.

“Our ask is very simple- we simply want the government to agree to meet with us,” said Kniaziew. 

“We know the government is well aware of the problem because we have reached out countless number of times and have not heard back from them since December,” he said.  

If nothing changes by fall, seniors and children won’t have access to eye appointments since there is provincial legislation that makes it illegal to pay optometrists privately or through a third-party insurer, Kniaziew added.

He urged concerned patients to visit SaveEyeCare.ca to learn more and to contact Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey to ask him to work on a solution this summer.